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Tire technology has improved dramatically over the years. From water-dispersing rain tires to fire-and-forget all-season rubber, there’s a tire to handle just about any situation. However, you may have noticed that some vehicles, more often than not muscle cars and performance nameplates, have wide, slick tires or drag radials tucked up under their rear fenders. No, it’s not a cost-saving or neglectful thing; it has origins in racing.

Race-ready slick tires offer a wide, sticky contact patch and better heat dissipation than summer or all-season tires

If you’re encountering a set of slick tires or semi-slick rubber in the wild, it’s more than likely a set of wide Hoosiers or Mickey Thompson drag radials. Owners often equip muscle cars like classic Dodge Chargers or modern-day Chevrolet Camaro ZL1s with slick tires to maximize performance on the drag strip. 

See, slick tires or partially-treaded drag radials provide a better contact patch with the surface of a drag strip, increasing grip. As such, a high-horsepower, rear-wheel drive (RWD) car will lose less traction under launching conditions. Less traction lost means more power effectively delivered to the pavement and a snappier launch. That’s essential for racing drivers looking to cut vital tenths of seconds off their ⅛ mile and ¼ mile times. In fact, Dodge offered its halo car, the SRT Demon, with a set of drag radials from the factory. 

A Dodge SRT Demon with drag radials shows off the benefits of slick tires as it wrinkles its tires.
The Dodge SRT Demon wrinkles its drag radials upon launch | Stellantis

It’s not just drag racing, either. You’ll notice that everything from circuit-bound personal vehicles to Formula 1 cars ride on slick tires for fair weather track time. The slick tires provide increased dry-weather grip and dissipate wear-inducing heat more effectively than road-going summer or all-season tires.

So why don’t we all have slick tires on our cars? Well, the treads on your tires serve a purpose. As such, removing the tread pattern from your street-use tires creates safety concerns, if they’re even legal in your state. For instance, the lack of treads on a slick tire means little to no water dissipation. Consequently, driving in rainy conditions with a slick tire could be extremely dangerous and lead to a crash.